Scathe pulled out his map and looked it over. "According to this, the quickest way to the eastern kingdom of Nihon is via the railway system. I suggest we keep a low profile until we absolutely have to expose ourselves, and take the train to the Nihon Station." Zoraan nodded an agreement, and Aria gave a thumbs up while she was putting on her tattered traveling cloak.

Scathe continued. "To keep us from attracting attention, we should not leave the house together. I will go first, and after a minute, you two follow. Don't worry, I won't move too far ahead so that you won't lose sight of me."

Scathe opened the door and walked out, and after a minute Aria and Zoraan left as well. True to his word, Scathe wasn't out of their sight for longer than a second, and no one bothered to look at them. Everything was going smoothly...

...until a couple of guards crossed their paths. "Prince Zoraan?" One of them, the leader, asked. "What are you doing here? And with a wench, no less. Feeling lonely, sir?"

"No, she's just a very unusual individual that I decided to accompany her to her home." Zoraan lied, trying to fool them. Unfortunately, they didn't go away.

"Is that so?" Another guard asked, knocking the hood over Aria's head off and opening the cloak forcefully. When he caught sight of her hair and eyes, his face showed that he was slightly unnerved, since the hues of both were unnatural. But when he caught sight of the sword hanging from Aria's hip, he grabbed her by the wrists. "I don't think a peasant like you can understand this, but Prince Shadis has decreed that civilians are not to carry weapons. Violation results in three days in the stocks. You are coming with me."

"Shit." Aria answered. "I'm afraid this would happen. I guess this can't be avoided then." Aria drew her sword and cut the guard's hand off, and before he could scream, she severed his head from his neck, spraying herself in his blood. The other guards armed and readied themselves, two carrying maces while the third aimed with his blunderbuss.

Just as one guard charged forward, Zoraan pulled out a shield and blocked the strike, at the same time putting his arm back and let his spear tip touch the ground behind him. "Get on!" Zoraan directed Aria, and Aria jumped on the spear's shaft, which Zoraan then used to catapult Aria over the guards, surrounding them. Aria took care of the guard with the blunderbuss, while Zoraan skewered the other two.

Scathe, only yards away, watched this display and shook his head. "While I admit your skill is commendable, now there is no way we're going to use the train with you soaked in blood like that. We should get out of the city now."

The group ran for it, and managed to elude capture without killing any more guards. They took refuge inside the woods, and stopped to catch their breath and look at the map.

"Well, so much for the quickest route... any other suggestions?" Zoraan asked.

Scathe thought for a few moments. "There's nothing for it... we need to head through the Urocubus Caverns. I wanted to avoid that if we could, but all other routes would not only take too long for our provisions, they would likely end with us as bloodied mangled corpses by either marauders in the Shifting Sands of the south, or the remnants of the Dark Lord's army lurking in the Dead Marshes northeast of here. That is the only option."

Aria looked at the map, and saw a spot in between where they were and the Urocubus Caverns. "What's that?"

"A labor camp being overseen by the royal guard. That's one of the reasons I wanted to avoid this route." Scathe answered.

"And the other reasons?" Zoraan asked.

"There are nasty things lurking in those caverns, Prince. Things of eldritch and primordial origins." Scathe replied, a quiver of emotion in his voice. "I will do the best I can to ensure our safe passage through the Caverns, but there may be points where my power will be insufficient. I am a warmage, not a proper one."

"Reassuring in a fight, not so much when it comes to survival against the elements." Zoraan responded.

Aria stood there, listening to the two of them. "The longer we stay here, sooner or later the guards will find us and most likely imprison and execute us. Let's get out of here."

Scathe nodded. "Agreed." And the three of them headed towards the Urocubus Caverns.

The End

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